Queens Leaders Push for Federal Recognition of Diwali

Over a dozen local officials and community leaders expressed their support for the legislation during the Zoom conference.

By Iryna Shkurhan | ishkurhan@queensledger.com

Congresswoman Grace Meng was joined by local Queens pols and advocacy leaders on May 26 to announce her introduction of legislation to make Diwali a federal holiday.

If passed, the Diwali Day Act will give students in public schools across the country a day off from school and become the 12th federally recognized holiday in the nation.

“A federal holiday for Diwali would give millions of families the time deserved to celebrate together, as well as educate others about the history and significance of this auspicious day,” said Congresswoman Meng during the virtual press conference on Friday afternoon.

Diwali, which is also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated for five days by South Asians, Southeast Asians, Indo-Caribbeans and by Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains. It usually falls sometime in October or November, depending on the Indian calendar and the new moon.

Diwali signifies the spiritual victory of light over darkness and goodness over evil. It is one of the most important festivals for religions prominent in India and also marks the beginning of the fiscal year in the country.

Meng chose to announce the initiative during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, instead of in the fall when Diwali is celebrated, to showcase the diversity of Asian Americans. She also mentioned that the introduction of the bipartisan bill is early enough for it to pass in time for the holiday.

“It is high time to recognize Diwali as a holiday in U.S. public schools,” said Dr. Neeta Jain, Founder and President of the International Ahimsa Foundation. “Our children should be treated equally. As our children celebrate other cultures, others should celebrate and learn about our culture as well. This is the only way we can teach children to have mutual respect, mutual understanding and mutual acceptance.”

More than one legislator pointed out that Asian Americans are the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States. According to Pew Research Center, the Asian population doubled between 2000 and 2019, and is projected to surpass 46 million by 2060.

According to the Asian American Federation, in both Brooklyn and Queens, the Asian population increased by over 120,000 in the past decade.

Meng also mentioned that she is pushing similar acts for Eid, which signifies the end of Ramadan in Islam, and Lunar New Year which is celebrated by several different cultures.

“Today the congresswoman has taken a historic step toward honoring the communities who celebrate Diwali, not only in our city, but all across the country,” said Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education, David C. Banks, during the Zoom conference. “I think that’s a huge, huge deal.”

City Councilwoman, Linda Lee who represents swaths of eastern Queens, recently initiated and passed legislation in the council to make Diwali a school holiday in NYC. In the fall of 2023, Diwali will be a holiday for NYC public schools.

“Given the rise in hate crimes that we’ve seen over the years, I’m hoping that bringing these holidays into our schools will really help at a very young age, teach our children the importance of the diversity of the city and how wonderful it is to celebrate all of these different cultures in our schools,” said Councilmember Lee.

So far, 14 members have already signed the legislation. Meng says that at this point in the process she is working to collect as many cosponsors as possible across the political aisle.

“We didn’t get here overnight. Even a few years ago when someone even mentioned the word Diwali. People were confused,” said Assemblyman Ron Kim, who represents Flushing .”But now we are at a point of ‘Oh, It’s not a holiday yet?’ And it’s because of the normalization.”

Bus Brings Free Mammograms to Glen Oaks Women

The bus, equipped with a mammogram x-ray machine, was provided by the American-Italian Cancer Foundation. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

By Iryna Shkurhan | ishkurhan@queensledger.com

A free mammogram screening bus stood on Union Turnpike in Glen Oaks on Friday, May 19 to give women the opportunity to detect breast cancer. 

Any woman living in NYC between the ages of 40 and 47, who hasn’t received a mammogram in the past year, was eligible for the service. Uninsured patients were welcome, and those with insurance did not have to pay a copay and had their deductible waived. 

“This mammogram event means a lot to the community, and any other groups,” said Shirly Huang from the Coalition of Asian-American IPA, a sponsor of the event. “It doesn’t matter if they are Asian or Latina, cancer doesn’t care what ethnic group you are in.”

Approximately 20 women made an appointment for a screening, and anyone eligible who was walking by was also able to make an appointment on the spot. 

Earlier this month, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) unveiled new guidelines that recommend women get their first mammogram at 40, unless they have a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors which would warrant earlier screening.

USPSTF is an independent panel of medical experts who develop recommendations for preventative services based on the evidence and effectiveness of existing programs. Previously they recommended that women in their 40’s make an independent decision on when to start screening based on medical history and recommended they receive one at 50. 

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S, as well as the second leading cause of cancer death for women, according to the National Cancer Institute. The USPSTF predicts that this new change in guidelines could result in 19 percent more lives saved. 

Black women are also 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, despite being less likely to be diagnosed with it, according to American Cancer Society.  Some factors include high rates of genetic mutations, dense breasts and delays in treatment and diagnosis due to systematic inequalities.

Representatives from SHARE and CAIPA were joined by Council Member Linda Lee. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

“It is systemic,” said Sharon Browne, an outreach coordinator for SHARE, a nonprofit working to support and educate women who have been diagnosed with cancer. She set up a table at the event to distribute literature and answer any questions. 

Browne is a two time survivor of an aggressive form of breast cancer. And despite her preventative efforts to annual mammograms, she detected a lump just two months after a mammogram turned up negative. 

“I think it’s of the utmost importance to educate,” said Browne, who recalled an older woman who approached her table and didn’t know that cancer can spread from one part of the body to a distant region. She also said that she has met women who only got their first mammogram in their 50s because they were never informed about the appropriate timeline.  

“It’s not their fault,” she said. “They just don’t know.”

In her years of experience, she found that the most impactful way to educate women is community events like this, as well as support groups, doctors visits, TV and 24-hour hotlines where any questions can be asked without limits. 

Council Member Linda Lee, who represents swaths of eastern Queens, sponsored the event and also took it as an opportunity to get a mammogram herself. 

Sponsors of the event said that there are some certain barriers that get in the way of women receiving consistent preventive care. Some women may be embarrassed by the vulnerability of the screening process for cervical and breast cancers. While others may only want care from a doctor who speaks their language and understands their culture. 

A look inside where the screening takes place. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

Other women who are more recent immigrants may be uninsured, don’t have the right documents or may have to wait long periods of time for accessible care. Many of the women at the event also acknowledged that life can get busy, which hinders their ability to prioritize preventative care.

The mammogram bus was provided by The American-Italian Cancer Foundation at no cost to patients. Generally, organizers say that it is often booked up and can be found across all five boroughs, five days a week year-round. 

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